Unearthed: The 1,700-year-old Roman child's coffin found in Leicestershire that could be an early Christian burial
- An expert believes the lead coffin would have cost the equivalent of about £200,000, showing it belonged to a wealthy Roman family
- It was found four feet underground in a Leicestershire field by a metal detecting club, around two miles away from the site of a Roman settlement and fort
By Sarah Griffiths
PUBLISHED: 05:31 EST, 25 October 2013 | UPDATED: 05:33 EST, 25 October 2013
A rare child’s coffin thought to be around 1,700-years-old has been found in a field by treasure hunters.
It is believed the lead coffin contains the remains of a child from a wealthy Roman who lived in third century Britain.
Members of a metal detecting club made the find when they were searching a field in west Leicestershire, about two miles away from where a Roman settlement and fort that is known to have existed.
A 1,700-year-old lead coffin, thought to contain the remains of a Roman child, has been found by a metal detecting club in a field in Leicestershire. The exact location of the burial is being kept a secret to protect the rare coffin from grave robbers
The location of the site is being kept secret to protect it from looters and it is thought that the coffin could be the earliest example of a Christian burial in the county.
The coffin was discovered by Chris Wright, 30, a surveyor.
He said: 'I cannot describe how it feels to find something like this. You spend hours walking around fields, sometimes with little reward and then you find something this.
'It is incredible, it makes all the hours worthwhile, it makes you feel so good.
The lead coffin is thought to hold the remains of the child of a very wealthy individual as it is estimated the casket would have cost the equivalent of about £200,000 in the third century AD
'We had been at it all day and then got a signal - it was quite deep so I "ummed and ahhed" about whether to just ignore it and move on,'he said.
But luckily Mr Wright let curiosity get the better of him and began to dig.
'I was digging like mad when we began to see what it was - not in a way that might damage the item I must add - but just in an excited way,' he said.
'It would be great to have questions answered such as why a child should be given such a high status burial and why the burial took place there.
'But perhaps these are questions that may never be answered.'
The location of the site - in a field in Leicestershire - is being kept secret to protect it from looters and it is thought that the coffin could be the earliest example of a Christian burial in the county. The coffin was discovered by surveyor and amateur treasure hunter, Chris Wright (pictured)
David Hutchings, 47, founder of DIGGING UP THE PAST metal detecting club said: 'It was about four feet underground on a field but the coffin was made of lead so we had no problem finding it.
'It’s not been opened yet but it looks like it contains the remains of a child and it’s probably one of the earliest Christian burials in the county.'
After digging down and discovering it was a coffin, they called the police and a vigil was set up at the site to protect it from grave robbers.
Mr Hutchings said: 'We assumed there were human remains in there so we contacted the police and they got in touch with the archaeologists from Leicestershire County Council, who also came out.
'It seems to be third century Roman and because of the east-west alignment we think it was a Christian burial.
The coffin is thought to hold the remains of the child of a very wealthy individual.
'It’s a lead coffin and we think it would have cost the equivalent of about £200,000, so it was paid for by someone very wealthy,' said Mr Hutchings.
Members of DIGGING UP THE PAST metal detecting club (pictured) said the coffin was buried four feet underground and has not yet been opened
The council archaeologists told the amateur treasure hunters it is a unique discovery and a find of a lifetime.
'It is sitting in the middle of a field at the moment. It is a bit vulnerable. So we will stay throughout the night keeping watch on it until it is removed,' he said.
Local rector Linda Blay was invited to the scene by the club and plans to return to say prayers during the excavation.
She said: 'It’s a very interesting find. They believe the body belongs to a child and it’s also thought to be a very early Christian burial.
'I’m the rector of five churches in the area and none of them date back as far as the third century.'
Leicestershire County Council’s finds liaison officer, Wendy Scott, said they had to treat the find with respect and dignity.
She said: 'We have to remember this is human remains - it is a child’s body - and the best procedure is to leave it alone and rest in the position it is in or rebury it.
'It is the remains of a Roman occupant of Leicestershire so of course we are interested in it.
'It is up to the landowner to decide to remove it.'
It is hoped an agreement to properly excavate the site and examine the coffin will be agreed with the landowner soon, but it is yet to be decided if the coffin will be moved or covered over.
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